The Great Pantry Caper

It all started with the capers.

Well, actually, it all started with putting the pantry doors back on!

Disorganised pantry

My disorganised pantry

My tidy open-shelf pantry quickly deteriorated into a disorganised shemozzle as soon as I put the doors back on. Within about ten minutes, I swear!

Lately it has been difficult to shop effectively with my pantry in this state. It isn’t really so very bad, but it has been building up to a crescendo of silly. I seem to have a bit of a blind spot for capers, it appears.

Cluttered pantry shelf

This was the worst of the shelves.

Where have my Capers gone? I know, I’ll buy another jar. Actually, I’ll buy two jars just to make sure I don’t run out.

And yet, I never seem to have any capers!

The time had come (the Walrus said) to think of many things! Chiefly, separating my stockpile from my pantry, once and for all.

Organised pantry

Hey presto, organised!

And then, in a blink, it was DONE(*). Now the pantry is only storing items that are in active use — bags we have opened are emptied into the “active” container (eg. rolled oats, cashew nuts etc.), but items that are still sealed up are now in my stockpile location.

Stockpiled goods on the kitchen counter

Stockpile items

Okay, so the kitchen counter is not the final destination for my stockpiled goods!

From this pic you can see just how much stockpile stuff I had crammed into my pantry. It turns out that you need a lot more space around objects you use frequently, in order for it to stay organised! Pulling these stockpile items out means I can (theoretically) store like items together and keep track of when they are running low. I can “shop my home” when I need to refill my pantry, instead of going off to the shops! Sounds great.

Stockpile moved to an Expedit shelf

The new stockpile location

… so now the stockpile is in the laundry. It’s a work-in-progress as I only have a bit of space cleared, and the boxes I removed are now “stored” on the kitchen table. But it is so much better. I wish I’d done this ages ago!

What I learned from this

First of all, my pantry shelves are too deep — items stored behind other items get forgotten about! My new pantry organisation has hardly any items stored behind. Only those items that are infrequently used (like the preserving salt) go behind.

Second, it’s easier to pull containers out from the pantry if there is some space around the boxes to get your hands in. Stacking my containers shoulder-to-shoulder was too cluttered.

Finally, taking the stockpile items out made enough space that I could group items together (like all the nuts, all the dry staples, etc.). I could also put healthy foods down low (cereals) and unhealthy snacks up high (lollies!) so the kids have a good example of food at their eye level.

I also learned that there were containers storing things I never use, so I liberated those boxes and gave the contents to the chickens (eg. quinoa — I made baby food from this, but I just don’t use it any more!)

Oh — and it turns out I had FIVE bottles of capers in the pantry. Go figure.

(*) You know this didn’t really happen in a blink, didn’t you? *wink*


Eating less meat – beef stew

Well golly, just where did that whole month go?

I’ve been busy — apparently quite busy. But I’ve had some posts cooking away in the back of my mind, and I’ve finally found some time to sit down and write one up!

A while back my local butcher changed hands again, and when it opened back up I found a new section for bulk meats at the end of the counter. Woohoo! No doubt they would previously have done me a bulk meat deal (they also do whole or half carcasses, if you’ve the storage space for that kind of thing, for example), but having the specials lined up right there in front of me made the price, and the quantity less overwhelming.

I didn’t realise that I could get a whole piece of chuck and not have it be some enormous thing I wouldn’t be able to process! Here is my piece of chuck cut up into cubes for stewing, and portioned into boxes (there were six portions, but only five are shown):

Stewing beef ready for the freezer

Stewing beef, cut up and ready to freeze.

Each of these portions will make one large family meal of slow cooked stew (about five or six adult serves)!

There is 410 grams of meat (approximately) in each box, after most of the fat has been cut away (that’s less than 1 lb for those who measure pounds and ounces). Which is why this post is about eating less meat!

If you’ve been wondering how to cut down on your meat consumption, and increase the amount of vegetable in your diet, then making a meat and vegetable stew is a great place to start.

  • Buying your meat in a bulk piece is cheaper, and doesn’t take long to prepare into cubes. (It took me about half an hour to do this prep.)
  • Once you’ve prepped the meat, it’s so quick to prepare a stew. I find I don’t even need to defrost the meat before adding it to the pot.
  • You need to be able to store your uncooked meat in the freezer, so make sure you have space before you buy in bulk!
  • The key to making this meat go further is to use lots of vegetables.

Here is my pot of stew, bubbling on the stove:

Hot beef stew

Hot beef stew, in my largest pot

The veg I threw into this one included:

  • an onion
  • two small sweet potato (kumera)
  • three or four potatoes
  • pumpkin (winter squash)
  • 2 carrots
  • one whole large capsicum (bell pepper)
  • [Update] I totally forgot tomato! Silly me. 3-4 chopped tomatoes, or 1 tin “whole peeled”

It ended up being a little bit like a Goulash, so I added some sweet paprika as spice (about a tablespoon), and cracked pepper (from my grinder – not a large amount).

When I’m starting the stew I always begin with a generous slug of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and some chopped onion. This I sizzle until the onion starts going translucent, then I add about a quarter cup of plain flour and stir it through. This makes a kind of onion-y “Roux” which will thicken the stew when I add liquid.

Toasty Ciabatta

Toasty Ciabatta curtesy of my apprentice baker friend!

I then add my meat (it wasn’t frozen this time because I’d just prepped the batch, but subsequently I’ve added frozen and just teased pieces off the lump with a fork as it starts browning). If I’m not in a hurry I will let the meat brown up a little, but it’s not uncommon for me to skip over this step!

Next I add in all my chopped vegetables, and stir everything around a bit until it all looks combined.

Then I add liquid (in this case, a quarter cup of leftover red wine and some hot vegetable stock). How much liquid? Good question! I think it depends on your pot and how much veg you put in. I let the liquid come up around the contents, but not ‘cover’. Basically, veg and meat pokes up out of the liquid.

Fresh broccoli florets

Fresh picked broccoli florets cooked on the side.

I boil water to make my stock using stock powder, because it’s quick and easy. That way when I add the liquid to the pot it is already hot, and doesn’t take too long to start to simmer. I also scrape the bottom of my pot to ‘deglaze‘ it (ie. get all the tasty browned meaty bits incorporated into the stew, and to stop it burning onto the bottom).

With chuck steak pieces, you want to simmer it for at least an hour and a half. I tend to let it go for a while and check it every now and then. Don’t simmer too hot or the liquid will go runny instead of thick! I find that mashing up a bit of the pumpkin thickens it up nicely, though.

When it is ready, serve it up with a small amount of toasted bread and some greens on the side. If you prefer to add greens directly, try some fresh Kale or Spinach in the hot stew about two minutes before serving! Yum! And a squeeze of lemon, maybe. Mmm.


Beef stew with toasted Ciabatta

All plated up!




Our flock

The coup in the coop

Yesterday, it seems, the balance of power in our chicken coop shifted.

Our flock of chickens

The flock, with curious Cricket investigating.

Our ‘boss’ hen, Raven, remains in her happy (and oblivious) position at the top of the pecking order, but something has upset Harriet’s apple cart. I can’t say I’m terribly sorry for her, as it appears Harriet has grown into a bit of a bully.

Chickens scratching over scraps

Harriet and Matilda happily scratching over scraps

She started out the smallest chick in the coop, at about 8 weeks old. We named her “Harriet” because she would shoot about like a Harrier jet, darting away from all the other chooks. Perhaps she felt she had something to prove, but once she hit the number two spot, she was pretty relentless in keeping an eye out on the up-and-comers.

Rose and Matilda pecking scraps

The competition: Matilda, and ‘Rose’

She certainly had daggers drawn for our hen-turned-rooster, ‘Rose’. Despite the fact that he was almost twice her size, she never let up chasing him around.

Now, however, she is decidedly meek. What has happened? I can’t tell from their behaviour as a group, but I suspect that Matilda has made a stand, and as is often the case with a bully, Harriet has backed right off.

I think the new pecking order is something like:

Raven -> Matilda -> Harriet -> Cricket

It’s the boss chook’s job to look after the vulnerable chickens, but Cricket is really no longer in that category. Look at the size of her now! I think she might be the biggest chicken, physically, in the coop:

Chickens preening after a snack

Fluffing up, after a snack (Cricket on the right)

Raven and Cricket still run together like BFFs, so it’s hard to know for sure what the pecking order is. Cricket is still skittish of Harriet, but Harriet is now deferring to both Matilda and Cricket, who are getting first serves at the goodies. Matilda also frequently roosts above the other chickens, balanced on the upper coop ventilation window (silly chook!). Whereas Harriet still roosts on the level with Raven. Cricket seems to prefer either being sat on by Raven (or squished against the wall), or roosting below Raven on a lower perch.

Really, chicken politics is almost as silly as real politics. Am I right?

Tomato sauce

Home-made tomato sauce

Recently I realised I wouldn’t be able to purchase my favourite bottled tomato sauce — Roasted Garlic and Onion — from my organic box supplier. This is a total bummer, because I *love* that stuff, it’s delicious. It also comes in wonderful brown glass bottles which are great to re-use, as the brown colour helps keep the produce fresh (it filters the sunlight better).

My organic box service *does* offer “cooking tomatoes”, however, which are rejected first grade fruit. Normally organic tomatoes sell for $12 per kg, which is pricey compared to regular supermarket tomatoes at $8 per kg. But the organic “cooking tomatoes” are sold for $3.50 per kg, which is a total win.

So, recently I made up a batch of my own sauce, using these tomatoes. Here’s how doing it yourself compares:

  • Bought sauce: $4.80 for 700 mL. Organic ingredients. Contains ONLY tomatoes, garlic, onion and NOTHING ELSE.
  • My sauce: $3.50 for 1kg tomatoes (organic), 1 head home-grown garlic (organic), 2 onions at 99c per kg (not organic, I used what I had). This made 4 jars of 375 mL sauce.

Verdict: the professional sauce still wins on flavour, although my sauce was very good this time. The flavour would have been even better if I had time to ripen the tomatoes for a few days on my kitchen bench. In the end, my sauce wins on availability, and was cheaper!

These prices are in Australian dollars, and in our supermarket it costs $3.30 for a 500 mL bottle of a “leading brand” of sauce — NOT organic. Making your own sauce is a very affordable way to eat better quality food. No salt! No sugar! You just don’t need that stuff; tomatoes are delicious all by themselves.

Here’s how to do it (and it’s easy):

Slice up some tomatoes, and lay them in a baking dish.

Halve your onions and lay them cut-side up.

Pull apart a head of garlic (or half a head, or however much you want), and scatter the cloves about.

Tomatoes, onion and garlic ready to bake

Tomatoes, onion and garlic ready to bake

Drizzle everything with olive oil. You don’t need to drench it! Just for seasoning.

Bake in a moderate oven (180 °C) for an hour and a half (give or take). (Warning: this step will make everyone in your house VERY hungry.)

After baking.

I baked for 1 hr 20 minutes. It smelt delicious!

Let it cool on the bench, then remove and discard the onion and garlic skins.

Push all the bits through a sieve (a ‘mouli’, or ‘food mill’ is what I use, and it takes about two minutes). This bit is messier if you don’t have the right tools, but a sieve will do the job. Don’t use a food processor as this chops into the seeds and can give a bitter flavour to the sauce.

If the sauce is too watery for your taste,  you can reduce the sauce for a little while on the stove. I would have done this if I had time, but everyone was hungry when I got home, and I just sieved-and-served, so to speak.


Two bottles of tomato sauce

Two jars of 375 mL sauce. We ate about this much straight away with pasta (five bowls, about 4 adult serves).

The mouli makes this incredibly easy. My mum used a mouli to make all my soft baby food, I believe, rather than using a food processor. You may find one worth the investment, especially if a food processor is out of your price range. It can’t do everything a food processor can, but on the other hand, it’s about one tenth the price. :)

Winter garden gallery

Winter is closing in at last, and the cold weather has arrived.

All the animals are doing very well, especially Cricket who is growing like crazy and looks like a proper hen!

Here is a selection of photos I took yesterday morning, as I did my morning rounds.


My hair cutting tools

DIY haircuts = time and money saved

Hey all!

I’ve been very busy since Easter, with a bunch of stuff. My professional life (as a consultant) collided somewhat with my ‘simple life’, and so I’ve been juggling what I can get done at home. One of the tasks I always choose to do myself, though, is haircuts!

People are often nervous about giving someone a haircut. I would be nervous of attempting a haircut on someone else’s child, but for my own family I think it’s a total win to do this myself. Why? Even the cheapest haircut costs $15 (for a short boys cut) around here. And that’s if you pick a weekday during school hours. For a Saturday, you are looking at $25.

That may not sound much to you, and we could afford to pay for haircuts if I chose to … but I don’t see the value in it, when I can do it myself.

Today I managed to pin down William for a haircut. Here’s what he was looking like before I pounced:

Will's long hair: covering up the cute.

Will’s long hair: covering up the cute.

Pretty shaggy, and you can’t tell from this photo but his hair is in his eyes.

I’ve been cutting his hair for a while, and sometimes I do a really nice cut, and sometimes it’s a bit off. But I don’t mind (if he doesn’t) and I figure that the more I practise when he is little, the better I will get, and when he is older (and less wriggly) I will be doing a Pretty Good Job (TM).

I was very pleased with today’s cut:

Finally finished: he looks younger now!

Finally finished: he looks younger now!

I’ve used a bunch of different instructions from around the web on cutting hair, but today I refreshed my technique with this tutorial, which I found described things with real pictures quite nicely.

The hardest parts I find with cutting boys hair are:

  • He gets annoyed and complains. Mostly I pounce when he is distracted playing a game, but he doesn’t like being told to put his head up, and so the hairs go down his neck and make him itchy. I try to be quicker every time. It’s a trade-off between quick and accurate!
  • I don’t do very well taking the hair sections. Usually I get too much hair and I think I have to re-cut the section over and over because of that. I’m working on doing this better.
  • I’m nervous cutting the front part of his hair. I think this means I’m not cutting it quite right (I don’t like to take too much off and make crazy layers). I’m going to have to just follow the instructions for this part of his hair (next time!) and suck it up.

The most satisfying part?

  • I didn’t have to book in a haircut time, so I can get his hair washed and cut at any old time that suits us,
  • I didn’t have to fork out any $$$ now that I’ve spent the few dollars on a pair of haircutting scissors (bought at the supermarket),
  • I feel clever when I get it looking as good as this,
  • I don’t have that rotten feeling I get when a professional does it and I don’t like how short they cut it.

Well, what’s not to love, really?

I do my husband’s hair too (his is easy, being shoulder-blade length, just straight across and no tricky sections). I also do my teenage daughter’s hair (she has very long hair — waist length — but it’s easy too). I even do MY OWN hair. Seriously. Since I wear it mostly in a ponytail, I don’t notice if the back section isn’t cut straight across.

I haven’t yet cut Evie’s hair. I’m still growing it out, but the time is coming soon when it will need a trim! I may take her to a professional for that first cut, so they can save me some hair. It’s tricky to catch a lock of hair whilst holding the comb and cutting it!

The only tools I use for this job are a water spray bottle, a pair of hairdressing scissors, and a comb with a skinny poky end:

Hair cutting scissors and a comb

Hair cutting scissors and a comb

I used to use regular kitchen scissors, and then I decided I’d try the proper ones. I will never go back to kitchen scissors. Wow, a huge difference! If you are thinking of cutting hair, do yourself a favour and buy proper scissors. Messing about with kitchen scissors is a Pain In The Proverbial!

Do you cut hair? Do you cut your OWN hair? :D

Nest boxes

Chicken coop maintenance

This last week has been so warm, it was classed as a heat-wave. Which feels very odd indeed, as we are just about to leave Autumn behind us for Winter! Yesterday was beautifully sunny and warm, but not hot: perfect for some chicken coop maintenance.

Every now and then (and I don’t really keep track of this, but it’s maybe once a month or so) I rake out the floor of the chicken coop and take the bits and pieces over to our compost bin. This part of the coop is where we throw our scraps down, and the chickens give it a good raking over. It breaks down amazingly fast, so even things like orange peels are barely recognisable after a few days.

Usually when I do this, the earth underneath is moist and almost black, and full of worms: about the best soil you can probably imagine for growing stuff in. Today the soil was pretty dusty, as it has been dry here for about a month:

Dirt chicken coop floor

The floor after raking out. Raven has come to investigate.

Still, the chickens always have fun with the fresh floor and go nuts digging and searching for little chicken treasures.

I pile the rakings into a tub, and then I take the straw out of the nest boxes. Usually there is not really much straw in there: it’s more of a hint to the chickens that this is a “nest”, but in reality their big fluffy butts tend to dislodge what I put in there, and after a week it looks pretty bare. This time I needed to get the trowel out and scoop up the dried night poops that one of the chickens has been leaving.

In case you are wondering: the coop doesn’t smell bad: it smells kind of like a farm, but not stinky. It does smell like chickens and a bit of poop, but not overwhelmingly. This is because we let our chickens out of the coop and into a reasonably large run every day. They put their poop out into the garden and (assuming we have rain) it washes into the ground pretty fast. Even the overnight dew will tend to dissolve the smells. It is nothing at all like the strong smell of pelletised chicken manure (or Dynamic Lifter, if that brand is familiar to you)!

Nest boxes with fresh straw

I put more straw in than usual, yesterday, because I wanted whoever was sleeping in there to be fluffy and warm. They don’t actually need straw, though. Some people have nest boxes with a sloping floor so that the eggs roll gently away and down into a collector box, even.

I designed these boxes to have a door that flops open and down, so it would be easy for the kids to open and check for eggs. I’ve been really happy with this design, as the kids can see inside without having to hold a heavy wood flap above their heads, and it is at tippy-toe height for peering in.

Simple next box door fasteners

The two blue wood blocks stop the flap flopping open. These are impossible for a fox to open, being too far apart.

The flap fastens at the top using a simple bit of swivel wood on each end (I used some off-cuts that we put 45 degree points onto for decoration). These are screwed very gently into the top of the nest box frame, using screws with a longish shank (so that the wood pivots, but the screw bites into the frame and doesn’t unscrew itself). I forget what these screws are called, so if anyone is interested, I’ll look it up. But I digress!

The tub of rakings goes into the compost heap, and counts as ‘brown’ material, mostly. It’s a bit of a question whether to count it as ‘green’, as it has a lot of nutrient and nitrogen in it from the chicken poop (typically ‘green’) but also a lot of dried grasses and husks of dried out fruit peels and corn cobs (typically ‘brown’). So far, putting it in with other fresh green scraps has worked well for balancing our compost heap.

Black water barrel

Water barrel, with red “nipple” waterers (x2). These are up high so the chickens can reach comfortably.

I also put fresh water into the new waterer, which I do semi-regularly. I put a whole bucket in at a time (so there is enough pressure in the barrel to stop the drippers from constantly dripping) but I check regularly to see that the water is still fresh. The barrel is black and in the shade, so it doesn’t grow green slime. The top is also sealed, so nothing gets in there, like dead insects or fallen leaves. I’m cautious about this, because I know chickens need fresh water.

Containers holding chicken layer mash and eggshells

Old water containers, now holding chicken layer mash, and crushed eggshells

If I left water in one of these feeders, in contrast, it grows green slime within a day or two. We use these feeders now just for mash (on the left) and eggshells (on the right) or occasionally for water, if I’m concerned one chicken is being kept from the other waterers.

We dry out our eggshells on a tray in the green house: it can get really very hot in there on top of the metal work bench! The eggshells are already washed before they out there, so there’s no left over sticky egg on them. We crush the shells up into reasonably small pieces using a mortar and pestle. Really any thing works for this, including a fist in a garden glove, or a rolling pin in a cookie tray, or whatever. It is said that some chickens will eat their own eggs if they get the idea they are food. So we try not to feed them anything that resembles a whole egg or eggshell.

There’s not much more to the chicken coop maintenance: sometimes (maybe twice a year) I take the door of the coop off and scrape out the perches. And I need to top up the sand underneath the perches as it has been scratched away and undermined by tunnelling rats. Since I don’t have any bags of river sand on hand right now, I will do that another sunny day.

Here’s a bunch of other stuff happening in the garden at the moment. You wouldn’t believe it is actually Autumn from these photos. There are very few flowers out, but what is there is still cheerful! Enjoy.

Curious chick

Tending the flock

Since our little Charlotte departed, we have been very busy tending to our small flock. Cricket (our other little chick who came to us with Charlotte) was also sick, although we only noticed after inspecting her closely — she seemed to be perfectly well, and growing bold amongst the other chickens.

We took Cricket up to the vet and came home again with a bag full of medicines: antibiotic pills, antibiotic liquid, and some worming liquid. The vet showed me how to do administer the pills and squirt the liquid, but I don’t mind telling you this was pretty nerve-wracking to do! His advice was to keep her warm and separate from the flock, so I needed to make some housing quick smart.

Enter, the upstairs bathroom:

Cricket installed in the bathroom, with a perch and mirror for company.

Cricket installed in the bathroom, with a perch and mirror for company.

That picture was the “modesty” version taken early in the piece. After a week of living in there, you can imagine how bad it looked! The key thing to remember here, is that chickens can fly and they like to roost up high (think windowsills). They also have no control over where they go, so there’s no chance of using Kitty litter!

Luckily this bathroom is not our only shower space in the house, we also have an ensuite shower. It was an interesting week!

Stephen and I managed to give the pills and liquids by opening her beak and popping the stuff down. On the second dose we almost choked the poor thing with a pill going down the wrong way, and after that every dose for me was like an execution. I hope I don’t have to do that again anytime soon!

Our efforts were rewarded, though. Cricket started out weighting 950g and a week later had put on 100g — 10 percent of her body weight! Very nice. She was also pretty keen to get out of the bathroom, as you can imagine.

Chickens don’t like to be solitary, so we made sure she had a mirror in there. That way she had someone else to hang out with, even if they were an irritating copy-cat friend. The perch was for entertainment, and she did spend a lot of time on it. But by the end of the week she was sleeping on the windowsill and flying around, ready to be out and about.

Cricket back outside in the orchard

“Hi mum, watchchya doin’?”

She is much friendlier now! She comes up to me and runs around my feet just like Raven does (the boss chook). Hand-rearing is wonderful for bonding! :)

Meanwhile, in the coop, our other chickens seemed well, although a few days into Cricket’s confinement I was alarmed to see a lot of this going on:

Feathers covering coop floor

Feather explosion?

Turns out that Harriet was off the lay, and losing feathers amazingly fast!

Roosting chicken with bald patches and no tail

See the big bald patch? Where is her tail gone?

Parts of her were starting to resemble a supermarket chicken, but googling revealed that this is just their annual moult, albeit a dramatic one! She very soon started to show new feathers on her bald patches, so I ceased my worrying and started taking amusing pictures of her feathers growing back in. Check out her tail! She lost it completely, and then it came back pretty fast:

She is starting to look a little more plush, now. But they sure look ratty during the moult! Matilda (our white leghorn) is now doing the same thing, and she looks like she’s been dragged backwards through a bush. Worse – some of her fluffy wing feathers are gone, leaving just the really long flight shafts. She looks like a zombie chicken! (She is very hard to photograph, being very skittish, so no funny pics for you!)

Both the moulting chickens have chosen to sleep in their nest box whilst they have hardly any feathers, and I don’t blame them! This means I’m cleaning out the nest boxes a lot more than usual, as they are doing their night soil in there. *sigh*

Cleaning up all that muck has given me a poop-exhaustion. Lucky I don’t have to wipe any one else’s bottom, right?

Wrong! I also had to clean up our visiting bunny rabbit, who was having sloppy poos everywhere. Turns out he was so picky with his diet that he was only eating the ‘treat’ food, and not eating any hay or greens at all! I’m not very familiar with rabbits (well, I wasn’t then) so I took him up the vet to have him checked, and realised I needed to change his diet.

I came back home this time with a much cleaner and slightly trimmed rabbit, plus a powdered probiotic (basically, rabbit yoghurt) to help him rebalance his insides. Ayee, what a couple of weeks it has been!

Rabbit playing with scrunched paper on the lawn

Here’s Charlie playing with some scrunched paper, on the lawn

Here he is, enjoying some outside grass time, with our children’s play pen and some make-shift cardboard toys. He seems to be much better now, with normal looking poop. Yay!

Phew, no more wiping bottoms, right?

Wait, I still have a toddler in day nappies. >.<


Harvesting broccoli

Home grown broccoli: better than you can imagine!

Hi everyone!

I hope you are all enjoying some warm Spring weather, or some colourful Autumn leaves, wherever you happen to be. :)

We are harvesting our broccoli at the moment, and this year has been the best yet! Previously we’ve managed to get just one broccoli plant to produce a “head” of broccoli, out of about eight plants. This year, I think we have about five plants, and three good heads! Yay. :)

How good do these babies look?

These guys took me by surprise, as it seems like yesterday they were still pretty small:

Turns out a whole month has flown by since I took that first picture! Boy, have I been busy.

Meanwhile, in another part of the garden, our bed full of “green manure” has been producing a lot of baby broccoli (from where we let the seed fall last season). I’m amazed at how many seedlings we have coming up! They are hugely enjoyed by both the chickens, and our visiting bunny rabbit (he is going back soon though, and it will be hard to find something for him fresher than this!)

The broccoli is at the back, clover at the front.

The broccoli is at the back, clover at the front.

Every day I take about six plants out of that patch and it barely makes a dent. The bunny is getting two or three (depending on size) and the chickens get five or so. The lucky ducks also get a bit of Cobblers Peg in there, which is a fantastic forage food for chickens (you may know this plant as Pygmy Spears). This is a pervasive weed in our area, spreading easily via the little woody seeds that catch in clothing and fur. But whenever it comes up, our chickens mow it down, they love it. :)

This was the fate of two of those heads of broccoli:

Colourful steamed broccoli

Colourful steamed broccoli

See how vibrantly green the stems are, all the way down? With commercially grown broccoli, even with organic stuff (although to a lesser extent) the stems tend to be thick and white. Partly this may be because our heads are small and loose compared to a “proper” head. Whatever the reason, it means our broccoli is absolutely full of delicious flavour. That goes double for the little side shoots we get over the next few weeks, a little bit every day. Just fantastic!

Sautéed in butter with pine-nuts. Perfect satisfying snack!

Sautéed in butter with pine-nuts. Perfect satisfying snack!

I remember when Isobel was in early primary school and we visited some friends of ours for lunch one day: we were discussing gardening, as our host was thinking about starting some veggies. Isobel piped up exclaiming, “Mmm, grow broccoli, it’s YUM, YUM!”. The look on my friend’s face was priceless.

Caring for Wool Nappy Covers

I’ve been promising for a while to document how I look after my wool nappy (diaper) covers. Well, here it is at last!

Caring for wool covers is quite a different story to your typical laundry process. This is mostly because you hardly ever have to wash them! This is just amazing, in my opinion. I used PUL covers until they wore out for my first baby, and there is no way you would go even two days without washing a PUL cover. They smell mousy and rather yucky after a day of swapping covers. Wool covers don’t smell much of anything, and feel maybe faintly damp when you take off the nappy.

How many covers and how often do I wash?

Here’s a little comparison of wool versus PUL, which are the two main methods of covering up a cloth nappy:

Wool — Right now, I need two covers. I alternate them during the day, and air them both over night (inside out). I am currently using disposables at night, so I don’t use any cover. If I was doing cloth at night, I’d probably use a third wool cover. I wash all my covers every 6 weeks or so, unless one gets a poo, in which case I wash it straight away. 6 weeks!

PUL — I needed 7 covers. I alternated two during the day, then one over night. The next day I would use another two, plus one over night. I would wash as many dirty covers as I could (5 of them) during the second night, and I would line dry them in the morning of day three. I needed a 7th PUL cover for wearing on day three.

In reality I have about seven wool covers, but most of them have shrunk and I don’t use them any more for my big girl, almost ready to toilet train. I’m using the two burgundy ones I made recently, and the pink cover I modelled them on. That’s truly it! And I’ve washed them twice since I wrote that post.

I can make two or three covers from recycled wool for practically nothing ($3 at a thrift store, or nothing if it’s an old sweater from the cupboard). Each PUL cover I paid $14 for, and I bought three sets (so I bought six in Small, six in Medium and seven in Large, having learnt the lesson of wash day). That’s a total of $266 for all the PUL covers. Can you see why I didn’t replace them when they wore out?

Okay, this is diverging somewhat from nappy cover maintenance into a comparison of PUL versus wool. Back on track!

How to wash Wool

I’m going to assume if you’re still reading that you have some experience washing woollens. Wool nappy covers are no different to any other woollen garment: you wash them in “Wool Wash” liquid, and you use tepid water, trying not to rub the wool too much (or it will felt and possibly shrink). If your washing machine has a Wool cycle, then you can use that; otherwise it’s hand wash time.

The good news is: they aren’t hard to wash. It’s not disgusting to hand wash a wool cover. There is the occasional poo incident which if you are doing cloth nappy covers, you already know is going to be less fun. But poo in disposables is also disgusting! I’ve seen grown men gagging over changing a disposable poo nappy. Nobody is immune to the gross!

The key thing is to rinse off any deposits straight away so that it doesn’t have time to dry onto the wool and make it difficult to remove later.

Waterproofing the cover

This is my favourite cover now

This is my favourite cover now

Rinsing the wool cover will probably not remove the Lanolin coating, but washing it with wool wash certainly will. The Lanolin is what makes your wool cover waterproof: without this, you just have a time delay between the wee on the inside getting to the outside.

Wool will absorb a lot of liquid. I know this because for ages I was doing the wool nappy covers wrong, and whenever I took the cover off it would be very damp (to the point where I might have squeezed it out if I was feeling sufficiently insane). This meant that I was using all of those seven wool covers each day, and getting pretty annoyed with how wet and stinky the covers were getting.

I thought I wasn’t waterproofing my covers correctly, but really I just didn’t have enough nappy inside — I needed two flat nappies instead of one. Simple! And yet I didn’t realise until I tried two nappies just how wrong I was before. D’oh!

To lanolise a wool cover you need:

  • 100% lanolin. Commonly used products are Lansinoh and PureLan. I have a small tube of both from when I first had William and they’ve lasted all this time. (4 years so far). Available at the chemist, or sometimes in the supermarket.
  • A clean nappy cover or covers – I do mine damp. Dry is okay too, though, just use enough water.
  • A bucket big enough to hold them
  • A small jar and a measuring jug
  • A drop of washing up detergent

To get the lanolin out of the tube it is much easier to soften it first. I do this by sticking the tube into a measuring jug half full of boiled water. My measuring jug is pyrex, so this is okay, it doesn’t crack the glass.

Heat a tube of pure lanolin

Pure lanolin

About thirty seconds later, you can easily squeeze out a bit of lanolin – it’s gooey like honey. They say use a “pea” sized amount, but honestly I use a bit more, like a bit of a dribble (almost as much as could cover the back of a teaspoon).

I add the lanolin to a small jar of hot water, about half full. A drop of dishwashing detergent goes in too, and then you put the lid on and shake like crazy. This turns the liquid cloudy, and emulsifies the lanolin.

Basically it makes the lanolin spread around the bucket and go all over your nappy covers – if you don’t do this step you will end up with splodges of lanolin on your nappy, and leaky bits where the lanolin didn’t coat.

Add enough tepid water to your bucket to soak your covers, but don’t put them in yet. Turn all your covers inside out to get the best coverage where it counts most. Then add the emulsified lanolin. Give it a swish around with a stick or something.

Now it’s finally time to lanolise the covers! Plunge each cover in, and push it under the water – it will feel kinda weird! The cover will probably want to float, even if you damped them down first. Make sure all covers get a good swish through the water on all sides, and then are pushed under with something on top to keep them in there. Leave them for about half an hour.

Add the lanolin mix to a bucket of cool water, then add your damp covers and soak them.

Soak the covers with lanolin

Once they’ve soaked for a while, I like to run them through the spin cycle on my washing machine to get as much water out as I can, as they dry quickly this way. If I just squeeze them out by hand it can take a couple of days to dry: you do what you need to. :)

All this sounds like a bunch of hard work — and the first few times you do it it will take you longer thank you think. But once you get the hang of it, it’s not such a chore. I find a bit of annoyance every few weeks is preferable to the daily small annoyances associated with PUL covers. And I think they look so much cuter and smell so much better that I don’t mind. If you’ve been thinking of trying it – just do it! It took me ages to take the plunge, but I’m happy I did.